Video: Video Finds: Comedy |
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Video Finds: Comedy

After some thought, it seemed wiser not to try driving a wedge between television comedy and film comedy. They have always struck me as being continuous with each other, and on YouTube the continuity is emphasised, because the clips all appear in the same frame. On the whole, the television companies do a more thorough job than the film studios of keeping their treasure out of the public realm. For Charles Chaplin, there was a long period when his films were not available anywhere, not because the grip of his estate was tight but because it had loosened, and the mini-mogul who got hold of the rights set himself up as the keeper of Chaplin’s flame, and starved the market. As a direct result, Buster Keaton’s reputation overtook Chaplin’s. Today, Chaplin’s early short comedies are all over Youtube and it can be more easily seen that he and Keaton were neck and neck. For television comedy, the essential stuff is all too often absent, but there are occasional opportunities to outflank an embargo and see a moment that changed the medium. Ernie Kovacs, for example, is well represented. An awful lot of surrealist comedy on television started with Kovacs. He could make me laugh just by pulling a face, and my main criterion of selection in this category will always be based on the difference between genuine laughter and the polite smile of respect. There are serious questions to be asked about a comic achievement: whether it is innovative, whether it is influential, and so on. But no question is more serious that the one about whether it is funny. I could write about an essay about Jacques Tati’s athleticism. If he had not had an early background as a professional footballer, could he have sent Hulot running like that between the dressing cabins on the beach? But I have little to say about the way Hulot can continue to wreck a room just by trying to fix the damage he has already caused, because the very idea of analysing the hilarity seems so absurd.